LA’s Top Heart Doctor Breaks Down Health Headlines

Professor Dr. Von Schwarz MD, Ph.D., FESC, FACC, FSCAI is a U.S-based, world-renowned triple board certified clinical and academic Cardiologist and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA. As one of the world’s most well-known and respected cardiologists, Dr. Von Schwarz has published over 150 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed medical journals and several books and book chapters in cardiovascular Medicine. His most recent book, The Secrets of Immortality: A Scientific and Theological Approach to Everlasting Life, is available now. We had an up-close and personal interview with Professor Ernst Von Schwarz about his career as a Cardiologist.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Why don’t you start by telling me about your background, where you are from, and how you ended up in Los Angeles?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Originally, I am from Germany. I went to medical schools in Vienna, Austria, Germany, and Philips University Marburg, and then I worked for many years at the University of Technology in Aachen, Germany. At one point, I thought it was a good idea to go to the US because we needed to spend some time in the US to do some research. I went to my boss in Germany, a very big Professor, and asked him where I should go if I wanted to go to the US, and he said let me think about that. A few days later, he returned and said to me, why don’t you go to Minnesota? I actually thought Milwaukee. Well, I didn’t know where it was; I didn’t know how to spell it; it just sounded cool to me. Then I looked it up, and it was freaking cold. And at the same time, a Baywatch came up on German TV, and I thought, I’m not going to Milwaukee. That’s how I ended up in Los Angeles and did a research scholarship at USC (University of Southern California) in LA. I spent two years here, did basic research, went back to Germany, became a professor, and then returned to the US. I worked at the University of Texas for three years. I moved back to Los Angeles and worked at Cedar Sinai on my own for more than 16 years.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Fantastic. So, did you always know you wanted to be a heart surgeon or a doctor? What inspired this career path and choice for you?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Well, it wasn’t my choice, actually, but my grandmother’s on my father’s side; she decided what path my sister and I were supposed to go. We had like 20 physicians in the family, going back to the personal doctor of the Austrian Empress Mary Theresia. However, my grandmother decided that I was supposed to become a lawyer and my sister a physician. It turned out the other way round; my sister is a Judge in Germany, and I became a physician. I was fascinated by the heart, and so early in medical school, I was interested in the heart and was a little disappointed about what we do in Medicine. We react to damage — it’s called reactive Medicine; we see patients when they are in bad condition; once they have heart disease, attacks, and weak hearts, and then try to do something with medication. Over the years, I thought that’s not really what we should do. We should prevent and not just react to damage but try to repair it.

Beverly Hills Magazine: So, concerning that, how can we ensure heart health? I think most people become very conscious of their health, the heart moreso in their 30s and 40s when they realize they are getting a little older. And so, what changes do you recommend that people make, whether diet-related or lifestyle or otherwise, to ensure heart health?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: That’s a great question. Genetics plays a major role, but what we can do as individuals is as important as our genes. Meaning it’s up to us how we live our lives. Our lifestyle determines the aging of our bodies, blood vessels, hearts, and other organs. Aging is considered an actual biological process, of course. But it’s also the cause of many problems; immobility, frailty, heart disease, strokes, etc. And now, we have in our hands, what we can do — not really to delay aging, but to delay certain degenerative processes that come with aging. This starts with little things like dieting. We don’t do it the way we should, and one big thing is calorie reduction. We discovered from experimenting with animals that reduced calorie intake can prolong rodents’ life by up to 40%.

Beverly Hills Magazine: That’s so fascinating. I am a born-again Christian, so I have incorporated fasting into my lifestyle as a spiritual practice to get closer to God. I was researching and found that when you do a 3-day fast like I’ve been doing – that is, calorie restriction for three days – no food, no water, it has tremendous positive effects on the body’s regenerative processes and anti-aging effects. So, the calorie restriction you’re talking about, are you talking about intermittent fasting or what?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: All of the above. Intermittent fasting is a great thing, but in general, we shouldn’t be eating much carbs. We shouldn’t eat a lot for dinner after 6 pm. If we have a normal circadian rhythm, we should have our biggest meals in the morning and not at night. And in our culture, we love to go out for the big dinners, you know. It’s wrong from the biological point of view. We should eat much less in the evenings. And yeah, intermittent fasting but also in general calorie reduction, particularly reduction of carb intake, has shown in preliminary studies to delay processes of aging and degeneration.

Beverly Hills Magazine: What would be your recommendation? Would it be eating one meal a day — is that ideal? Or is it eating only between certain hours in a day? Is there a secret method to this calorie restriction that someone can incorporate into their daily lives?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Well, there are different opinions on that. And I’m not saying I know it all, but generally, I suggest cutting down on carbs and salt. Number two, no carbs after sunset in general — so, no cheesecakes at night and stuff like that. Even though it’s yummy, it’s not good. And in general, of course, cut down the calorie intake to half what you’re eating now, whether you do that with intermittent fasting, sixteen hours, for example, or a couple of days, as long as you’re well hydrated. I’m against just one meal a day because that slows off your metabolic activities, and people actually don’t lose weight from that. They might gain because their whole metabolic activity, like gastrointestinal motility, becomes a little slower. So, it’s better to have smaller, more frequent meals. And the biggest meals should be in the morning, the breakfast.

Beverly Hills Magazine: And what’s your thought on sugar intake? For me, I’ve eliminated sugar from my diet. I’ve gone just so extreme, you know, pretty much big. And I only eat salmon and a little bit of fish. No salt, no sugar. What’s your professional opinion on sugar intake and its effect on the body and the heart?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Thanks for bringing that up. I mean, you eliminated sugar; that’s why you look so great. I think sugar is the worst legal drug besides illegal drugs, of course. And we are all addicts; I include myself there. I mean, if you look at what sugar does, sometimes, I’ll give an example, every day, I see patients, and when I prescribe medication, they ask about the side effects. And you have to name them, of course. If you would list the side effects of a piece of chocolate, which would start from stroke to diabetes, to heart disease to sudden death, sugar has more side effects than any drug I’ve ever prescribed in my life.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Unbelievable. You know, sugar was the most difficult for me to actually eliminate, one because of its addictive qualities but also because it’s prevalent in everything. It’s almost impossible to find a sugar-free sweet. Thank the Lord I have. I’ve found a natural and sugar-free ice cream and chocolate. But it took a very long time to find a product that was pure — for lack of a better word, without any addictive or, you know, harmful substances – totally natural.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Yeah. I mean, I’m not there yet. I adore you for that. Actually, I’m working on it, but I think it is the worst drug of all, in my opinion. If we can eliminate sugar, we reduce chronic inflammation from our teeth to our blood vessels and internal organs. That’s probably the biggest personal thing we can do to contribute to longevity.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Right. Absolutely. What about your suggestions for lifestyle or exercise choices for someone who wants to maintain optimum heart health?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Yeah. Well, exercise is essential, of course. As you know, if you’ve heard about the blue zones, those portions in the world where people become hundred-plus years old. They are all active into their high ages, active in their communities, eating healthy, low-carb, more plant-based diets, and never exercising. So, they don’t go to the gym, but they’re always on their feet; they’re always physically active. You don’t need to go to a gym, or run a marathon to exercise, as long as you move, as long as you’re active, moving around, walking, jogging, whatever, swimming. And there are things one can do at advanced ages: exercise sitting in a chair by moving your arms or stretching your shoulders, whatever. Exercise is essential, not only to lose weight but to avoid immobility and frailty. We need to keep our muscles going, and exercise is the best stimulus for oxygenation, meaning it opens our blood vessels, improves circulation, and boosts perfusion; and that keeps our blood vessels elastic. Keeping the blood vessels elastic is a major factor contributing to delayed aging.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Oh, very interesting. I used to run, but now I go more on long walks. I like extended long walks just because I believe the heart is a muscle. I think we have to exercise it and keep it active. But like you said, not necessarily a major workout or yoga but just an active lifestyle to keep the body in motion.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: The recommendations from the American Medical Associations have changed over the last few years. It is now five times a week and at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Meaning, a very slow walk is more like a social thing rather than a physical thing. So, you have to feel it, and then if you do a slow walk in between, you have to maybe do a little brisk walk, so that you’re out of breath and you feel your heart pumping a little faster, because that challenge trains your heart, conditions your blood vessels and also contributes to longevity.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Fantastic. So, moving back into your path to success, your career, and that experience, what is the most challenging thing about being a doctor? I mean, especially as a cardiologist, you’re performing surgery on people’s hearts, which is a tremendous responsibility. What is the most challenging thing about your responsibility and position?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: One of the most challenging things is that we have modalities in our hands nowadays that can help repair heart damage, for example, after heart attacks. And I’m talking about the whole spill of stem-cell therapy. Even though every single small study that has been published shows beneficial effects, one of the biggest challenges is that stem cell therapy is not improved and probably won’t for the next ten to fifteen years. There’s not much interest in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, to support stem cell therapy because it might take business away. But in my opinion, that’s one of the biggest advances in modern biotechnology and modern Medicine, and we’re working hard on how to raise money to conduct clinical studies for stem cell therapy to show that we can make a difference in the future. Unfortunately, the studies are rare, of course, and many people who come to me come really at the end.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Right. So, at that point, it’s too late?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: It may be too late to make a big difference. You have to be more active early in life.

Beverly Hills Magazine: How do you prepare for surgery? Do you have spiritual practices or mental/physical practices? Do you pray or meditate? What do you do?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Well, I don’t meditate because I don’t know how. I’m the biggest fan of it, but I’m not capable of doing it, but you probably know I have a Ph.D. in Theology in the Roman Catholic version, so I strongly believe in longevity, but I don’t believe in biological immortality. I believe that there’s something afterward.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Of course. I mean, the Lord Jesus told us your body would return to dust. First, there’s the natural body and the physical body.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I read quite a lot on philosophy and theology, and that’s my therapy, honestly. I cannot read only medical textbooks or papers because that would drive me nuts. My therapy is thinking about things like theology, like what comes after. I was reading a document on natural rights and natural laws. It was a fantastic presentation by the former Pope Benedict in front of politicians ten years ago or so. It gave me strength.

Beverly Hills Magazine: That’s fantastic. For me, it’s the Bible. When I wake up, I have to read the Word; before I go to sleep, it’s the last thing I do every night. The Word of God feeds my spirit after a hectic day; that’s the thing that brings me back to my peace with God. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned on your life journey in general?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I don’t know what the greatest is, but let me mention just one since you were talking about the Bible. We did this study a couple of years ago at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles, where we involved the clergymen, priests, pastors, and Jewish rabbi in caring for patients with advanced heart disease. The interesting result was that whether you’re Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim, as you believe in something, compared to being a complete atheist and not believing in any higher power, your clinical outcome was significantly improved, quality of life was better, hospital stay even was reduced, and cost for care was reduced. So, it was a small pilot phase study, but it was like an eye-opener for me to see that patients with a strong belief just do better clinically.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Well, I firmly believe that there is power in faith. You know, and faith is like a spiritual thing. And with God, all things are possible, so I’m not surprised you know.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: That was why I wrote the book “The Secret of Immortality.” That’s like the scientific, bioscientific, and theological approach to everlasting life from both sides coming.

Beverly Hills Magazine: I’d love to read it. That’s fantastic. Where can we get it?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Everywhere. You can get it on Barnes and Noble or Amazon; you can preorder it. But the official book release is August 1st this year, 2023.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Okay. Congratulations. That’s so exciting. Yeah, and it’s called the Secret to Immortality, so you’re giving insights into how people can manage their physical temples or bodies for optimum health and their spiritual lives for eternal life. And so, readers, I encourage you to get this book because I’m sure it’s a fantastic insight, a powerful handbook for all of us. So, actually, since we’re on the subject, do you prefer Ernest or Mr. Von Schwarz? How do you like to be addressed?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: It’s Ernst, not Ernest.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Okay, how has God Himself played a role in your life or let you know he was there? Was there an alignment or experience you had, something that made you know that God was with you?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I would have to think about that a little longer, but I strongly believe that things happen for a reason, and we all have disappointments and bad things to experience in life. But I always feel that even if something happens, it’s for a reason, and another door opens if one closes.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Absolutely. I’ve come to believe that everything happens for a good reason. And I know that may sound extreme because even things that have been negative in my life turned out to be blessings in disguise. Life is God’s school; there’s a lesson, a blessing, a reason, or a season for everything we experience or paths we cross with other people. Life is a beautiful spiritual journey, and I think it becomes a powerful experience for us when we understand it. So, how do you balance your professional and personal life? You have so much responsibility as a physician and your personal life, whatever that is. How do you balance the two as a professional?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I don’t have a personal life. It is tough. I have a family and children, but I feel bad that I don’t spend much time with my children. But I try, at least now. I mean, I’m on call every single day and every night. So, the phone never stops ringing. But on weekends, when I don’t have to go on rounds in the hospital, I spend time with my children. And when they are asleep, I read and exercise.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Well, that’s good. You know, even God rested on the seventh day. And I’ve made it a practice. So on Saturdays, I don’t work, and I don’t answer my emails. I gotta have time with God, time with my family. That’s why I ask; I wonder how people do that because life can get in the way.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I can’t turn anything off. But a couple of years ago, I was invited to China to give a lecture. I was just there for five days or so. I had two cell phones — an iPhone and the old Blackberry and those phones were off then. No calls, no texts, no emails, no one bothered me. It felt heavenly, honestly.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Yeah, I know, right? It is nice to unplug from the world we live in each day. What advice would you give to other aspiring cardiologists out there?

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Well, cardiology is like the crown of Medicine because, without the heart, nothing else works. So, there have been a lot of advances and advantages over the last decade in medical therapy and research, but we should never stop; we have to look for more. My biggest interest was always to look for cardiac protection, how to protect the heart or repair the damages I mentioned earlier.

I’m a strong believer, as I said, in regenerative therapy and stem cell therapy. I think we need more young people who can put effort into research. We need people, philanthropists, of course, who can put in money because it costs a lot to carry out these studies. Plus, we need support in this regard, and there are still so many unknowns. Still, I believe that, for example, within the next ten years, we will achieve longevity of probably a hundred and twenty or a hundred and fifty years. That should not be out of the possibilities.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Yeah, well, I mean, in the Bible, God said he cut man’s number short to about a hundred and twenty, and I’m always fascinated by that because I look to see who’s the oldest living human, and apparently they havent surpassed his boundary. But I agree with you. I think now, in this generation, many of us are waking up to the importance of preventive care, health and wellness choices, diet, exercise, you name it. And more people are going to the natural diets and making positive changes to ensure healthy aging. Gone are the days when you have to approach the grave, for lack of a better world in a decrepit state; I think we can be vigorous and vital and even youthful to some degree until our last day.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: I completely agree with you. I gave a lecture at Cedar Sinai two weeks ago, and at the end, I was asked exactly these questions by the audience. Why do we want to make people bedridden, and frail in senior citizen homes? Nobody has that intention. In fact, it’s the opposite. The intention is to create a prolonged health span, not a lifespan. That’s health with improved quality of life, mobility, and frailty avoidance.

And I remember many years ago when I was going to facilities to see patients. If someone had an 85th birthday, it was a big deal, but nowadays, if you go to a senior citizen’s home, every week there’s someone a hundred years, and they have a big birthday party. It’s shifted already, but we’re not where we want to be. More work must be done to keep people mobile and active and increase their quality of life, not only numerical age or years.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Absolutely. We must nourish not only our physical bodies but our spiritual bodies too. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been an honor to spend this evening with you, Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz, and I am so excited to read your book. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.

Again, I wish you continued tremendous success in all you do, as well as with the book, and all of you who are listening, get the book, and thank you so much for joining us. Thanks again, and God bless you.

Dr. Ernst Von Schwarz: Thank you. God bless.

Beverly Hills Magazine: Bye-bye.

Jacqueline Maddison
Jacqueline Maddison is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Beverly Hills Magazine. She believes in shining light on the best of the best in life. She welcomes you into the world of the rich and famous with the ultimate luxury lifestyle.
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